A blog about the new generation of work

Archive for August, 2008

I like to read on the Internet

I haven’t been updating this blog lately for a variety of reasons. The first (and most important) is that it’s summer, and in the summer it’s important not to spend all your time trying to land on the front page of digg. In the summer; it’s important to relax.

The other big reason is that, with the time I do spend in front of my Macbook, I’d rather be reading insightful posts than trying to craft my own. Reading, I’d say, is about 95% of the reason I use the internet.

Yes, Viriginia, I do enjoy reading on the internet

Which brings me to what I really want to talk about. It’s something I’ve been seeing again and again from so-called ‘business leaders’ (who like to talk about ‘integrated verticals’ which, I think, breaks the record for two words who, together, mean absolutely nothing at all) who fancy themselves exports on the web. They claim that people do not read on the internet.

Not to single anybody out, since I came across this quote as the result of a random search, but take this article from masternewmedia.org titled Online Reading Habits: How much content do web audiences read?:

Though hard to believe for most, a recent research study shows that “on average, users will have time to read 28% of the words if they devote all of their time to reading. More realistically, users will read about 20% of the text on the average page.”

I don’t quibble with the result of the research, but what I do quibble with is the conclusion that’s often reached as a result. It’s the Pro Blogger mantra, calling ‘wordiness’ a sign, and recommending lite content, full of easy-to-digest lists and giant pictures. In essence, it’s calling for an almost-illiterate web.

I’m not an elitist. I like lists. I like pictures. I skim articles when I come across them. But I also, and I am going to bold this, like to read on the internet. I like reading long, interesting articles. I like encountering so-called “walls of text” when I know it’s subject matter written by a talented writer. Never have I encountered a post by Gruber or 37signals and thought “Damn, I wish this content was presented in the form of a Top-10 list.

I like to read on the internet. I like to read paragraphs on the internet. Maybe I’m not a large audience, or even a common audience, but I am an audience, and I hope that the talented writers out there, drowning in a sea of advice calling for short, easily-digestible, content-free writing on the internet, are aware that readers like me exist.

Postscript: What makes a good blog?

Man-about-town Merlin Mann has a post titled What makes a good blog?. It’s really good. The best bit:

Good blog posts are made of paragraphs. Blog posts are written, not defecated. They show some level of craft, thinking, and continuity beyond the word count mandated by the Owner of Your Plantation. If a blog has fixed limits on post minimums and maximums? It’s not a blog: it’s a website that hires writers. Which is fine. But, it’s not really a blog.

Exactly.

As we move through new generations, blogging is going to become a very common tactic for businesses. It works better than the traditional brochure-style website, because a blog creates a strong connection with the reader. It’s more like having a conversation than viewing a commercial. It gives your business personality. And personality on a corporate level is more important than ever. (Look at Apple versus Dell, as an example.)

But if we let blogs descend into a swamp of nothing but links, lists and funny pictures, we’re never going to get anywhere meaningful. To be honest, I’m a little concerned that maybe we’ve already passed that point of no return. But, hell, all I can really think to do that might help is say, proudly and over and over again, that I like to read on the internet.

Photo by rosefirering. Licensed under Creative Commons

Four Day Work Week

From The Globe & Mail:

The Nova Scotia government is looking at switching to a four-day work week in a bid to conserve energy.

Energy Minister Richard Hurlburt said Thursday the idea came up during a brainstorming session at Conserve Nova Scotia, a government agency that encourages people to use energy more efficiently.

Of all the reasons to consider a four day work week, I think energy savings is probably the weakest — especially in a more rural province like Nova Scotia, where people will likely spend their extra day off driving around.

But I do think the four-day work week is a great idea for a lot of industries. Working four 10-hour days as opposed to five eight-hour days means more ‘core time’ and less time winding up and winding down. Plus, three days gives people the chance to actually get away on the weekend and come back feeling refreshed.

I know it’s something 37signals has done to great success. I’d be interested to hear about other examples.

The Catch-22 of finding meaningful work

One of the more unifying traits of Generation Y is their desire to do important work that has meaning. For those that can afford it, this often manifests itself as volunteer, not-for-profit or NGO1 work, or even kind-of-questionable things like voluntourism.

Studies continuously show that we’d rather feel like we’re contributing something or building our skills than we would just sit around, twiddling our thumbs, collecting a salary while waiting for those higher on the ladder to either retire or get high by a cement truck. Even if that salary is large, we’re often still not content: only about 20% of the interviewees stated that salary levels were “very important” to them.

Is this a bad trait? Not really. The same studies also show that Gen Y employees are completely willing to work their asses off if the right opportunity comes their way. It’s only if we feel stuck in some soulless, static position that we start to show off some of that now-infamous Generation Y laziness.

Where things DO become problematic, though, is that I think we often don’t give our employers a chance. We can be impatient, and we can be impulsive. If we don’t feel immediately like we’re being valued in a position, we’re liable to job hop, skipping from one employer to the next in the hopes of finding the position that does give us meaning right away.

The reality is that most employers are not going to thrust their new employees into important and meaningful work from day one. And their reasons for not doing so are actually pretty solid. First, because it can be business suicide to give something that could seriously impact your company’s bottom line to a untested newbie. Second, because they’ve likely been burned before by people leaving less than a year into the job.

You can see the Catch-22, can’t you? It’s that big, obvious thing heading straight at us. Young people don’t want to wait around for meaning, so they leave. Employers don’t want to give their new people big projects, because new people are notorious for leaving after a few months on the job.

It has all the qualities of a vicious cycle, and indeed, I’ve heard anecdotal reports of people bouncing around, from entry-level position to entry-level position. These are often talented, well-prepared, skilled individuals, but after eight months of doing nothing but shuffling paper around and watching older, more seasoned employees juggle all sorts of meaningful projects, they bail out.

I think this is one situation where the younger people need to adjust more than the employers do. Gen Y needs to remember that it can’t be so idealistic to think that they can just slide into a high-paying, high-responsibility position2 and that, in this case especially, patience is a virtue.

However, employers need to understand that this attitude is commonplace, and adjust for it. Even just a little communication goes a long way here. Give constant feedback, let your young employees know where you see them going in the organization. The absolute worst thing you do is just leave them behind their desk, convinced that all they’re ever going to do is staple, copy and add formulas to your spreadsheets.

In sum: patience and communications. They just might be the fundamental building blocks of the effective intergenerational office.

Photo by gilberts. Licensed under Creative Commons

  1. NGO is a really stupid, term, by the way. Here are a list of literal non-governmental organizations: Wal-Mart, McDonalds, The Pittsburgh Steelers, Sony, Ben & Jerry’s. But I digress. []
  2. Yes, this is true even if you went to Grad School. I know they might have tried to convince you otherwise. []